In the face of growing regulatory pressure, Google is overhauling its European operations and appointing a single executive at its head, the Financial Times reports.
Previously, Google was effectively split in two in Europe. There was one operation for Northern and Central Europe, and another for Southern and Eastern Europe (along with the Middle East and Africa). They will now be unified, and brought under the control of Google executive Matt Brittin, who previously headed up the Northern and Central European operation. His new title will be “President of EMEA Business and Operations,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The move is a response to an increasingly hostile regulatory environment for Google in Europe. It’s facing significant pressure from regulators over a number of issues, and this unification will allow the company to better combat them.
The issues Google faces include:
- Accusations of tax avoidance. Google — along with other Silicon Valley giants — has been attacked over financial arrangements that significantly lower its tax bills. Matt Brittin — Google Europe’s new boss — was infamously grilled by British MPs over the issue (see below).
- The right to be forgotten. Following a ruling in May 2014, European citizens can appeal to Google to have “outdated” or “irrelevant” information removed from search listings about them. Google fiercely opposes the ruling, but it has implemented the takedown system.
- Antitrust allegations. Google dominates the European search market, with a marketshare of upwards of 90%. The European Commission has an antitrust investigation underway into Google. And in November, the European Parliament took the unprecedented step of voting to break up Google and split off its search arm. The vote was non-binding but it illustrates the level of animosity towards the search giant.
- Publishing conflicts. Spain recently attempted to charge Google for linking to articles by Spanish publishers. Google refused to pay up, instead closing down its Google News service in the country.
Matt Brittin will, Google hopes, be able to head off these issues and improve relations with national governments. So who is he? We know:
- He studied at Cambridge University, where he was also a keen rower. (He even competed in the Olympics!)
- He subsequently worked for McKinsey & Co., before becoming commercial director at Trinity Mirror.
- He then joined Google, working as the head of direct sales in the UK, then becoming managing director of UK and Ireland. From there he took on his most recent role, the head of Northern and Central European operations.
Here’s Brittin defending Google’s tax arrangements to a panel of British MPs:
Brittin recognises the challenges he’ll face as Google’s new European boss. He told the Financial Times that it is “definitely the case that the environment we operate in today is more complicated than five or six years ago.” He says he wants “to encourage Europe to embrace the opportunity, as well as protecting the values and the history that we have.”